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Economy renders Flowery Branch projects start shaky
Funding is tough to find for Old Town
Old Town Flowery Branch, a $15 million project planned for downtown, was planned to launch this summer. Because of the economic downturn and the difficulty in securing commercial lending, the project is less certain to start when expected. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

The first phase of construction on Old Town Flowery Branch, a $15 million project planned for downtown, had been pegged for a launch this summer.

But now that project seems less certain.

“It’s up in the air right now because of the economic times,” said Marty Hortman of Hortman & Dobbs, the project’s developer.

“Lending is very, very tough right now. Funds are not readily available,” he said last week. “There’s some real tough requirements from the lenders to make loans on developments right now.

“If (the project) gets pushed back, I can’t give ... a (start) date.”

The development, at buildout, would inject serious life into the sleepy downtown, featuring an extension of Pine Street running parallel to Main Street and consisting of shops, cafes, townhomes and a parking garage on nearly three acres.

Flowery Branch City Council has committed financially to the project through its tax allocation district, having paid Hortman & Dobbs nearly $135,000 in tax increments next month for demolition work done in the project.

The city also is prepared to put up $361,000 in assistance, following the completion of the project’s first phase.

Under state law, local governments can create the tax districts as a tool to lure developers to blighted areas, using property taxes from developments to pay for certain public-use projects within the district.

Kellin Dobbs, a longtime spokesman for the project, now is more involved these days with his wife’s company, Staff Right, a temporary staffing agency on Atlanta Highway in Flowery Branch.

He deferred to Hortman for further updates on the project but said his firm is “still excited about the project.”

“The best thing we can see happen is the (project) continue to move forward and revitalize and preserve the history of the downtown area,” Dobbs said.

In an interview in January, at the start of her second four-year term as the city’s mayor, Diane Hirling said one of things that could happen on her watch is the project’s development.

“I think the city needs to help Old Town to prove that it can be a stable and friendly city, so that we can entice builders, businesses to come into Old Town,” she said.

“To me, right now, Old Town is the jump-start. If that doesn’t happen, I don’t see downtown becoming viable again.”

Hirling said she hasn’t spoken recently to Hortman & Dobbs about the project.

“Personally, I’m still counting on the project starting in June,” she said.

“... In my opinion, the city has done everything possible, financially and in assisting them with their plans, to move this project along; so I’ll be very disappointed if I hear anything differently.”